Country Background

In 2003, the U.S. and its allies overthrew long-reigning dictator Saddam Hussein and left a massive power vacuum that has caused extreme instability in Iraq for nearly two decades. Since 2015, Iraq has been engaged in a military campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) to recapture territory lost in the western and northern portions of the country. In late April 2018, the U.S. military officially declared an end to major combat operations against the Islamic State in Iraq. Sectarian tensions continue to plague the region, approximately 2 million people remain internally displaced, and over 4 million remain in need of humanitarian assistance.

What Nonprofits Need to Know

Below in the blue is an overview of the humanitarian and peacebuilding needs in Iraq. In the red are the primary sanctioned groups presently operating there. Because U.S. law prohibits the provision of “material support” to listed terrorists individuals and groups as well as engaging in trade with sanctioned persons and entities, the presence of these groups and sanctions programs can impact the delivery of aid and peacebuilding programs. The list below is non-exhaustive and changes frequently, so it is important for nonprofits to check all partners and those with whom they engage in transactions against, at a minimum, the U.S. Specially Designated National (SDN) and the United Nations Security Council Consolidated lists. Below the charts is information on OFAC licenses, where applicable, and links to our research and advocacy, and other relevant information.

Humanitarian & Peacebuilding Needs

According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 2.5 million returnees and IDPs are in need of humanitarian assistance in Iraq.

Displacement: Those directly affected and displaced by the 2014-2017 conflict against ISIL remain the most vulnerable people in Iraq. Out of the 6.1 million people displaced between 2014-2017, 4.9 million have returned, while approximately 1.2 million remain internally displaced, 1 million of whom are displaced outside of formal IDP camps.

Food Security and Nutrition: Roughly 730,000 IDPs and returnees in Iraq are in need of humanitarian food aid, 224,000 of whom are in acute need.

Disease and Healthcare: Roughly 1.7 million IDPs and returnees need essential primary healthcare, 231,000 of whom are in acute need. Iraq has seen approximately 2 million COVID-19 cases as of late 2021, and 23,000 deaths from COVID-19. Water scarcity is also increasing the risk of cholera, though Iraq has not experienced a cholera outbreak since 2017.

Natural Hazards: Iraq is prone to natural hazards, notably floods, droughts, and earthquakes.

Ongoing Hostilities: ISIL continues to remain active in certain parts of the country, conducting small-scale attacks, raiding farms, and abducting and executing civilians. There were over 600 ISIL-related incidents in 2021. Clashes between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Turkish forces in Iraq have continued, causing some displacement and civilian casualties.

Islamic State (IS): Originally formed in 1999, the Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), was previously an Al-Qaida affiliate called Al-Qaida in Iraq. It changed its name to ISIS in 2013 after breaking away from Al-Qaida. The U.S. designated the group as an FTO in 2004. More information here.

Ansar al-Islam (AAI): Formed in 2001, the group is headquartered in northern Iraq with its largest presence in Kirkuk, Tikrit, and Mosul. The U.S. designated the group as an FTO in 2004. More information here.

Jaysh Rijal al-Tariq al-Naqshabandi (JRTN): Active since 2006, this Sufi insurgent group formed in response to Saddam Hussein’s execution. The group conducts attacks against separatist Kurdish groups, Iraqi Government military and security forces throughout the country. The U.S. designated the group as an FTO in 2015. More information here.

Hezbollah: Officially formed in 1985, this Iranian-backed Islamist Group is headquartered in the Shia Muslim areas of Baghdad, with fighters active in Ninawa, Al Anbar, and Babil governorates. The U.S. designated the group as an FTO in 1997. More information here.

Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK): Formed in 1974, the group is operational in the north and east and maintains a stronghold in the Qandil Mountains. It aims to advance Kurdish autonomy, political, and cultural rights. The U.S. designated the group as an FTO in 1997. More information here.

Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH): Formed in 2006, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) is an Iranian-funded Shiite militant and political organization. The group maintain its presence throughout Iraq and the U.S. designated the group as an FTO in 2020. More information here.

Primary Terrorist Presence &
Other Sanctioned Groups

Access overview of the United States’ Iraq-Related Sanctions here. Access overview of UN ISIL (Da’esh) & Al-Qaida Sanctions committee here. Access overview of the Security Council Committee’s Iraq Sanctions established pursuant to resolution 1518 (2003) here.

“Years of intensive combat operations have left an enormous human toll; cumulatively, 6 million people have been displaced since the beginning of the crisis in 2014.”

UN OCHA – 2019 Humanitarian Needs Overview for Iraq

Licenses Offered by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC)

The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) within the U.S. Department of Treasury enforces sanctions programs. It has a licensing process that allows transactions with sanctioned entities, including listed terrorist groups, that would otherwise be unlawful. Nonprofits that operate in areas affected by sanctions often apply for licenses from OFAC so that they are able to provide services to civilians in conflict zones around the world without running afoul of U.S. sanctions law, engage in peacebuilding activities and more. Find more information here.

Policy Reform

The Charity & Security Network advocates for change in national security measures to better support nonprofits working around the world. In fragile contexts, counterterrorism measures often impede humanitarian, development, and peacebuilding organizations from accessing finance for their programs and serving populations in need. Find out more on our key issues below:

  • Find more information on Material Support here.
  • Find more information on Financial Access here.

Last updated: April 1, 2022